It could cost $800 million and take 5 years to connect every SC household to high-speed internet

It could cost $800 million and take 5 years to connect every SC household to high-speed internet
New federal funding will go to help expand internet access -- but it falls well short of what is needed. (Source: WIS)

MANNING, S.C. (WIS) - One challenge brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic is how to educate children when they can’t be in traditional classrooms.

Internet access is key to students’ success with distance learning.

Jordan Jefferson is the Band Director at Manning High School.

He said distance learning can be a challenge for many teachers and students, especially in rural areas.

“When you’re talking about educating students as a whole, you want it to be equitable, you want it to be even across the board,” he said. You don’t want there to be places and pockets where it’s high here and low there.”

According to many experts and lawmakers, the pandemic has highlighted South Carolina’s digital divide.

New federal funding has been allocated to expand internet access across the state -- but it falls well short of what is needed to bridge that divide.

South Carolina lawmakers have designated some of the CARES Act money to help put high-speed internet in more homes across the state. The money will go towards mapping, expanding access and acquiring mobile hot spots to give to at least 100,000 households.

Thursday, Gov. Henry McMaster signed that allocation plan into law.

While the funding will help many, according to new broadband maps, about 435,000 South Carolinians do not have access to high-speed internet.

Of those 435,000, about 180,000 people do not have access to any internet services for their households at all.

Revolution D President and CEO, Jim Stritzinger, helped develop these maps. He used the most up-to-date information and up-to-the-minute speed tests to create the maps.

According to Stritzinger, it would cost about $800 million to connect every South Carolina household to high-speed internet.

Stritzinger said the one of the pieces to the puzzle is affordability. Not every household that has access is able to afford internet. He said subsidies and federal grants can help.

“We’re talking easily five years to get it done. That’s my goal,” he said. “I’d love to get every home in South Carolina with broadband access by 2025.”

Until then, Jefferson said school districts will have to continue to be creative to fill in the gaps when it comes to distance learning. He said he doesn’t want to see any more students left behind because of lack of access to the internet.

“I think this conversation right now is crucial and paramount -- it’s something we need to be having and I’m glad we’re having it,” Jefferson said.

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